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15 NEW YORK Rangers
Kostya Kennedy
October 04, 1999
Call them the Strangers. New York will begin the season with a 23-man roster that could include as many as 10 new players. The Big Apple turnover is a dramatic, expensive effort to reshape the team in the aftermath of Wayne Gretzky's retirement and two straight seasons of missing the playoffs, the club's longest drought since the mid-1970s.
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October 04, 1999

15 New York Rangers

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INSIDER

CATEGORY

SI RANKING

SKINNY

OFFENSE

11

Should be explosive with free-agent pickups

DEFENSE

20

Older group with skill, but can be forechecked easily

GOALTENDING

13

Richter is more than solid in nets

SPECIAL TEAMS

12

Led by Leetch, power play should be excellent

COACHING

20

Muckler must regain magic he had with Oilers, Sabres

Call them the Strangers. New York will begin the season with a 23-man roster that could include as many as 10 new players. The Big Apple turnover is a dramatic, expensive effort to reshape the team in the aftermath of Wayne Gretzky's retirement and two straight seasons of missing the playoffs, the club's longest drought since the mid-1970s.

Given all that new blood, Rangers loyalists had better buckle up for a season that could be as full of twists and turns as a New York City cab ride. Six of the newcomers are thirtysomething veterans who are free-agent pickups, the best among them being 5'6" All-Star right wing Theo Fleury. Feisty and dynamic, he has scored 374 goals in his 11-year career, and his three-year, $21 million contract is a big chunk of the $67 million the Rangers spent this summer. Fleury seems destined to win the hearts of Manhattanites with an impishness not unlike that of established Broadway icon Annie: He too believes the sun will come out tomorrow. When asked if the Rangers can win the Stanley Cup this season, Fleury says, "I don't see why not."

Whether they even qualify for the playoffs will depend largely on how well signees such as steady defensemen Stephane Quintal and Sylvain Lefebrve, fleet winger Valeri Kamensky (he averaged 27 goals the last four seasons), checking center Tim Taylor and backup goalie Kirk McLean meld with the rest of the team. Coach John Muckler will experiment with various forward combinations, trying to assemble a solid second line to complement a top unit that will be centered by the gifted Petr Nedved.

The scariest sight in training camp was goalie Mike Richter lumbering around with his chronically spasmatic back packed in ice. Richter is a top-tier netminder and one of three players left from New York's 1993-94 Stanley Cup championship team. ( Defenseman Brian Leetch and forward Adam Graves are the others.) Even with the off-season shopping spree the Rangers' talent is still middling, so they will need Richter to carry them at times.

"You hope that for the first 10 or 20 games we get the goaltending and the defense to keep us over .500," says Leetch, who signed a four-year, $34 million contract in May. "Then we should get much better as the season goes on. Of course, when you have this many new players, you never know how things will shake out."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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